I have made the point in the past that I think the term 'British English' is an unfortunate one. For many reasons I prefer the term 'Received English' which parallels the idea of 'Received Pronunciation'.

I feel that my view is underlined by the tragic Foley case. The person who is alleged to have executed Foley has been widely reported as 'having a British accent'. What I think they mean by this is that he speaks English using Received idioms and in a Received Pronunciation.

There a multitudes of people across the world, who are not necessarily British, who use received English. Aung San Suu Kyi, for example speaks with a received accent, as do a lot of the Pakistani ruling class.

The idea that Received English and pronunciation should be exclusively associated with Britain is absurd. And in this instance it has tarnished Britain in that it associates us with the brutal Foley killing.

I feel strongly that the abbreviation BrE should be changed to RecE.

  • 1
    I feel you've expressed your view quite clearly and succinctly. I have a few questions though. BrE is a well-known abbreviation for British English. I'm not sure about RecE because I have never seen it before. Can you provide more support for using this abbreviation instead (e.g., is it used elsewhere?)? Re-tagging all the questions would be a considerable time investment. Would a tag synonym suffice in your opinion? Would you be willing to lead a re-tagging effort? – Kit Z. Fox Aug 25 '14 at 3:18
  • 1
    Received English is just one single variety of British English. – curiousdannii Aug 25 '14 at 6:54
  • 2
    This question looks off-topic because it looks like you're trying to make everyone in the world change their terminology. If you want to change something on this site you need to be far more specific. – curiousdannii Aug 25 '14 at 7:02
  • @KitFox I am not suggesting that anything be done hurriedly. Clearly it is a matter which needs further discussion. The fact that my post has received four downvotes indicates that not everyone agrees. But Received English is something I have heard spoken all around the world, and often by people who have no claim to be British. – WS2 Aug 25 '14 at 7:24
  • 3
    How would you otherwise express a "British accent", it's called British because that is where it originated from. Similarly someone with an "Australian accent" is just another means of identification. If the executioner in question is British born, then that explains why he has a that particular dialect. And furthermore one can still be British, ergo he/she speaks in BrEng, but have a thick Yorkshire accent. So BrEng is not an unfortunate misnomer, it's a pretty good description. – Mari-Lou A Aug 25 '14 at 7:47
  • 1
    @Mari-Lou You write "It is called British (English) because that is where it originated from". Indeed, all English originated from Britain. But as I understand the convention on this site BrE refers to what some call 'standard English'. I am not at all clear that that includes Yorkshire English or other dialects where the vocabulary and grammar differs. As Received Pronunciation (RP) is a well-known and used term by linguistics professionals, what is the objection to Received English for the standard form of the written and spoken language? – WS2 Aug 25 '14 at 8:13
  • @KitFox as far as my own contributions are concerned I shall refer in future to Received English. I have never used the term British English, and will abandon my use of the name 'Queen's English' as its alternative. I can accept the objections to that last term. – WS2 Aug 25 '14 at 8:19
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA One of my objections to the term 'British English' is that in Britain there are a panoply of dialects. Some of those dialects, I would argue, are no closer to Received English than Australian English is. Indeed they may be considerably further away. It is interesting that the American hostages in Iraq nicknamed their captors 'the Beatles', because they said 'they had British voices'. The Beatles certainly didn't speak anything resembling Received English (what others call BrE). They were Liverpudlians and spoke accordingly. – WS2 Aug 25 '14 at 8:29
  • 2
    The same objections you can make for AmEng, not everyone speaks with the same accent, and they are peculiarities in speech that are localized. AmEng also stands for standard American English. The term Liverpudlian explains the region and the dialect, (perhaps), but the language spoken in the 60s was, and today still is, English. – Mari-Lou A Aug 25 '14 at 9:11
  • I don't want to digress excessively (especially in comments) about whether BrE or RecE is the appropriate label. I would like WS2 to provide some more information first. I don't know much about Received English, having only heard the term Received Pronunciation before. I don't object to an new tag, but given the unfamiliarity of the term (I am presuming, please contradict me otherwise), I think we'll need a very clear description of what it covers. If Received English extends past the UK use, then it's not a good replacement for BrE, although that's not to say we shouldn't have it. – Kit Z. Fox Aug 25 '14 at 13:06
  • @WS2 As to dialects, there are a panoply for AmE, and I would not be surprised to hear the same about CanE and IndE and other variants. To the extent that BrE refers to a broad range of dialects, sharing much vocabulary, idioms and grammatical form, spoken by a significant portion of those living in Britain (whatever that is these days), it seems to make sense. Under your argument, is what the rest of us speak Unreceived English? – bib Aug 25 '14 at 15:27
  • 1
    @WS2 By the way, my sister-in-law speaks English with a Barbadian (Bajan) accent. While it sounds much more British to me than my New Yawk accent, I know enough not to call her language British English. – bib Aug 25 '14 at 15:37
  • 2
    Published reports say that man in question speaks "Multicultural London English", which is not RP but is a dialect or sociolect of British English. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 25 '14 at 19:32
  • 4
    No one is going to recognize 'RecE'. – Mitch Aug 26 '14 at 1:42
  • 3
    Calling it "British English" makes sense because it is primarily found in Britain. That it is found elsewhere doesn't matter. "Received English" is a meaningless label to me. Who is receiving it? What are they doing differently than I am, over here, speaking Canadian English? In any case, do we not use the phrase "British English" to refer to a multitude of sub-varieties, including the opaquely-named RP? Just as Canadian English includes the Newfoundland dialect/accent, and American English includes the Southern accent, so to does British English encompass a large list of accents. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 27 '14 at 18:35

I think British English (BrE) is the official name for a family of dialects, accents, etc, of English and isn't a synonym for Standard English or Received Pronunciation. Example, in the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, Chapter 1, section 3.1.2, a footnote says:

some English-speaking Caribbean countries have rhotic accents and yet belong to the BrE family

So clearly the term isn't meant to refer to the geography or politics of the speakers but rather to linguistically group more closely-related families together. Therefore a speaker of a Caribbean dialect of British English would still be speaking British English, even if he or she was also an Islamic extremist beheading infidels in Syria.

As far as what constitutes a "British accent", the fact is that many people can't precisely tell what kind of accent someone has. Every country has a variety of accents and some of them can be easily mistaken for others, especially if you don't get exposed to the various accents very often. So I don't think the world is particularly mad at Britain if any given extremist happens to speak a version of English that corresponds to the BrE family.

  • I'm not entirely sure of the point you are making, but large areas of Britain have rhotic accents. The counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, and others, are all rhotic. There is nothing foreign to the UK about that. The biggest single point I make is that Australian English (for example) is really no more differentiated from standard English, than are many of the UK dialects. American may possibly have a case for being a different language. Indeed it still puzzles me as to why they don't call it American, as Noah Webster did. – WS2 Dec 15 '14 at 16:20
  • My point is about the use of "British English" as a label. The label stands for a geographically and culturally diverse set of "dialects/accents" rather than just those found in Britain. The quote about "rhotic accents" is from CGEL and just serves to illustrate that the authors of the CGEL consider accents not found in Britain to be "British English". – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 15 '14 at 16:27
  • 1
    In short: RP is a subset of British English. Standard English is neither a subset nor superset of British English. British English is a family of dialects and accents, not all of which are in Britain. That a person has a "British accent" says as much about Britain as the fact that they are speaking "English" says about "England". – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 15 '14 at 16:30
  • But that means that when people use the term BrE, on these pages they are referring to a vast diversity of dialects etc. Indeed if it be the case that BrE refers to 'everything spoken in Britain', I will never feel confident using the term again. And that is precisely why I don't use it. The only satisfactory way to deal with this is to regard the kind of English which the Queen speaks as standard English, and anything else, wherever it is spoken in the world as a dialect. – WS2 Dec 15 '14 at 16:33
  • @WS2 I'm confused. At minimum, "British English" should at least refer to any English spoken in Britain, right? Which is already zillions of dialects and accents. It's not a precise label, it's a broad one. Just use it broadly. Sometimes it's useful to talk about "American English" and sometimes you need to further distinguish the accents in the south from the north, or AAVE/Ebonics from other dialects, etc. Similarly with British English. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 15 '14 at 16:38
  • 1
    Your use of the Queen as the only representative of Standard English is highly unsatisfactory to me and to the millions of republicans and Americans and others who do not grant her any special linguistic authority. Standard English is a bit of a fiction. There is lots of variation in what is considered "standard". – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 15 '14 at 16:40
  • You cannot use the definite article for 'kind of English spoken in Britain'. Take something as everyday as a 'ham roll' (bread roll with slice of ham in it). In London and south-east they will call it that. In the Midlands they will call it a 'batch'. In Lancashire they will call it a 'cob'. An Australian most likely calls it a 'ham roll' since the Australian accent tends to follow SE England (American tends to follow South West England, with heavy component of Irish, (especially in NY). But to grasp these accents you need to start out by looking at how they were formed. – WS2 Dec 15 '14 at 16:45
  • 1
    @WS2 And yet, linguists do broadly group many or all of the kinds of English spoken in BRitain under the category "British English". It is useful, at times, to group things broadly. Just like the whole world uses the label "Chinese" to refer to zillions of languages/dialects of the languages spoken in China, and "English" to refer to zillions of dialects of what we're using to converse now, you can sub-divide the family with broad labels as well, such as "Wu" and "Yue" and "Guan" for Chinese, or American and British for English. Each of those categories can be further subdivided. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 15 '14 at 16:51
  • The term BrE is almost certainly of American coinage, and it is applied to anyone speaking something which they (more or less) understand which isn't American. Trying to make sense of the vast array of English in the world by taking a snapshot in that way is hopeless. You can only develop a schema by reference to the historical development of language. I must go back to Bryson's Mother Tongue it is years since I read it. – WS2 Dec 15 '14 at 16:59
  • By the way I'm not a fervent monarchist, nor fervent republican for that matter. But one thing the Queen does do well at, is speaking English. – WS2 Dec 15 '14 at 17:04
  • 1
    @WS2 It seems that this has devolved into an attack on Americans' abilities to study and categorize languages. Perhaps you should read more about what is considered "British English" and why, then decide if the people who made those categorizations actually knew what they were doing or just blindly divided the world into "America" and "Not America". – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 15 '14 at 17:05
  • What is the book/text you recommend for that? – WS2 Dec 15 '14 at 17:21

I'm going to suck up the downvotes, just so I can post this as an answer (stolen without remorse from one of @JoeBlow's answers):

Envaliant Mark III

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .